Mick Fanning, Aussie legend

When the dust settles on 2015, one piece of live television will stand alone for sheer adrenaline-inducing madness. On July 19, tens of thousands of fans around the world watched on open-mouthed as Australian surfing legend and three-time world champion Mick Fanning was attacked by a great white shark during a World Surf League final. This was a proper great white, somewhere around the 4m/1000kg mark. And Fanning fought it off. And his hero mate paddled to his aid. Now, I’ve never spoken to Mick Fanning, but I’ve spoken to his mum, and you bet your arse I’m going to write about it.

For those of you who are reading this blog but haven’t seen the footage, here’s a little highlights package. I know there are thousands of you out there.

There was a fin, followed by a much larger fin, then Fanning was fighting to stay on his board. The shark knocked him into the water as a wave rolled under them and they were gone. All the audience could see – all anyone could see, bar Fanning’s opponent, Julian Wilson – was an eight-foot wave cruising towards the shore and a couple of splashes out the back. At that point, those splashes out the back were Fanning being eaten by a shark(s). It was either one or two sharks, he’d just lost his board and everyone was watching the first major shark attack in professional surfing. As the wave broke, seemingly in slow motion, you fully expected to see blood in the water. It was terrifying.

The announcer shouted for help and implored Wilson, Fanning’s rival and mate, to get out of the water. Wilson made a beeline for the shark. As he got there, a jet ski arrived and Fanning pulled himself to safety with all of his limbs in tact. Fanning could be seen hunched over on the rescue board in the moments after the scare – he later said he could feel the adrenaline coursing through his veins. Then, there were the interviews. Fanning was raw and happy to be alive, and Wilson choked back tears as he described what had happened behind that wave. He said Fanning had turned to face the shark, wrestled with it and fought it off. Fanning confirmed he’d thrown punches. Memes ensued.

Anyway, to the point of this post and the only thing that makes it remotely worthwhile – an insight into Fanning’s remarkable life. Back in 2010, when I was working at a community newspaper in Perth, I went to a presentation by his mother and then manager, Liz Osborne. She told a particularly moving story about Fanning losing his brother, Sean, when he was 16 years old. Here’s what I wrote for the Stirling Times:

The Danish proverb, ‘a rich child often sits in a poor mother’s lap,’ refers to a mother’s unconditional love and sacrifice for her children – a sentiment typified by the story of Liz Osborne, mother of surfing world champion Mick ‍Fanning.
Ms Osborne, a former mental health executive and now one of the most successful managers in world surfing, recently spoke about her life at a breakfast at Trigg Island Surf Life Saving Club.
Her candid recount of her own childhood, and Mick’s, took her and most of her audience from tears to joy.
Ms Osborne told a crowd ranging from young surfers to old acquaintances how she used sport to keep her five children occupied as she tried to support her family as a poor single mother.
She said she drew inspiration from her own mother, an amazing woman she had loved with every fibre of her being.
“I saw her, this strong woman who had very little, but gave me every opportunity and basically sacrificed her life for me and I guess I thought that was the way to be with my kids,” Ms Osborne said.
“We didn’t have much, but I was so happy because I had all my kids around me.”
Ms Osborne then spoke of the tragic death of her son, and Mick’s best mate, Sean.
Sean died in a car crash in 1998 when he was getting a lift home from a party he had attended with Mick.
Mick had declined the car ride and chosen to walk.
Mick’s friends stopped him before he walked straight in to the crash scene, but Ms Osborne said Sean’s death changed Mick forever.
“Sean and Mick always talked about how they were going to do the tour together. Mick did everything that Sean did, they were the closest of mates,” she said.
“Mick sat in his room for a week straight after that night, he didn’t speak, I don’t even know if he moved. When he did come out, he was screaming. He collapsed and he was just screaming.
“His dad was there that day and we just sat there on the floor in the hallway, holding Mick and crying. I don’t know what would have happened if there wasn’t that release.”
Ms Osborne told Mick that every day he should “go out at dawn, watch the sunrise, surf and be with Sean.”
She said her son resolved to earn a place on the surfing world tour in his brother’s honour.
Ms Osborne said she was overcome by emotion in 2007 when she watched Mick look to the sky and thrust his first ASP World Surfing Championship trophy into the air, tears streaming down his face.
“Mick is a good man; I hope the universe shines on him,” she said.
“He gives a lot of himself and his money to people who are not in as privileged a position as he is.”

Fanning wins the 2007 ASP world title

By the power vested in me as a self-aggrandising blogger, I hereby recommend Mick Fanning for the title of “Aussie legend.” He started near the bottom, reached the top and stayed humble. He promised Sean he’d make the world tour and went on to win three world championships. He even clashed with a great white shark and emerged unscathed – but how? Maybe the universe was shining on him, as his mum put it, or maybe his big brother had his back.

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An Australian bushfire

Bushfires are a big concern in a hot, dry country like Australia. In February 2009, 173 people died in the “Black Saturday” bushfires that tore through parts of Victoria. In January this year, a Victorian firefighter died battling a blaze in Tasmania. Here’s a gripping photo of a grandmother and grandfather huddling under a jetty with their grandchildren in Tasmania. They abandoned the house and managed to save the five kids and the family dog, which was sitting above them on the jetty.

In the last two months in Perth, I’ve covered bushfires in Kin Kin in the state’s south-west, Bullsbrook in the eastern suburbs and Trigg on the coast. All three forced homes to be evacuated. The Kin Kin fire tore through nearly 1500 hectares of dense forest, claiming the life of a bush recluse. In Bullsbrook, firefighters battled day and night to save 15 homes built on a hillside. And late one afternoon in Trigg, gusty afternoon winds sent flames from a bush reserve perilously close to homes. The response from firefighters was a sight to behold. Crews from eight stations were at the scene in minutes, supported by four helitacs, an aircrane and an air intelligence helicopter.

Bushfires are an intrinsic part of Australia – if you don’t believe me, I captured this photographic evidence in Trigg. It’s a shot of a helitac shrouded in thick smoke, but when you max out the colour and contrast, a sunburnt country emerges.

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The joys of journalism

Confucius say: “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Well, I definitely feel like I’m working, but I love my job all the same. Agree to disagree, Confucius. Of course, he was onto something. From removing furniture, to driving forklifts, washing dishes, cleaning windows, stacking shelves, packing sea containers, hitting the phones, working in freezers and walking the aisles, I’ve had my fair share of jobs. And although a few of them had their rewarding moments and camaraderie, nothing comes close to my chosen career.

Journalism is the first job I’ve loved and I want to do it for the rest of my life. I don’t think that’s being overly optimistic either; no matter what form news takes, journalists will always be in demand. People like having something to read and while the blogosphere certainly isn’t lacking in that department, it is lacking the ethical and legal checks of most major news outlets. For a journalist, the ability to publish 24 hours a day across different platforms is a bonus, not a burden. Newspapers are shrinking, but it’s happening gradually enough to allow a carefully planned transition to cyberspace.

The work I did prior to my first post in journalism gave me a good grounding and an appetite for a long-term job I could sink my teeth into. Every day as a journalist is different, every day is a challenge and every day you learn something new. It can be stressful, but the opportunity to entertain, inform and influence people is well worth the worry. You’ll meet amazing people with amazing stories that will stick with you forever. And you get to see some pretty cool stuff. Here are some photos from my phone over the last few months.

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Kalgoorlie – the Golden Mile

Like chips? Love beer? Then Kalgoorlie-Boulder is the place for you. With 28 pubs to choose from and fries with breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s a great place to put on weight. After 10 weeks working at the Kalgoorlie Miner, I’d stacked on 8kgs – granted, I didn’t do any exercise, but there’s a 24-hour restaurant. Not a McDonald’s, an actual restaurant that will serve you a fillet steak, prawns and chips at 4am. Here’s me after five weeks (as Miner Mouse).

Miner Mouse, unbuttoned

Miner Mouse, unbuttoned

But I’m underselling Kalgoorlie – it’s an interesting place with 120 years of history. It’s also home to the richest square mile of gold in the world. People used to walk their barrows all the way from Perth hoping to strike it lucky. The annual 23km Balzano Barrow Race honours that chapter in Kalgoorlie’s history. Now, most of the gold is found at huge mining operations – the KCGM Super Pit alone produces 850,000 ounces a year. But every weekend, a few dusty prospectors can still be seen heading out of town to find Lasseter’s Reef.

With its wide roads and colonial architecture, the main strip, Hannan Street, is straight out of the wild west. The Exchange Hotel even has those doors Sinister Sam used to walk through on Sesame Street. But it’s more sophisticated than it looks. Gone are the days of 100 brothels servicing a male-dominated population; the gender split has come in to 53:47 and there are only two brothels left (although Chinese massage parlours are now a dime a dozen).

I wasn’t holding my breath for the Super Pit, but for a hole in the ground, it was pretty impressive. I think that sums up my thoughts on Kalgoorlie – not that it’s a hole, it’s just bigger and better than I expected. Like most places, it has its issues, from a marginalised indigenous population to poor drainage. But it also has a strong sense of community spirit and loads of character. I’m happy to be back in Perth but I’ll miss the Golden Mile, even its abundance of beer and food.

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Gone fishing

I love fishing, I just haven’t caught many fish. But a good day on the water isn’t all about catching fish, right? The sun, the lazy beers, the company, the swell, the fish guts – it all adds to the experience. To cut a long story short, I was delighted to catch some ****ing fish on my mate’s boat last weekend.

We went about 32km west of Ocean Reef, eventually reaching some good ground in 40m of water. As we slowed down, geysers exploded to our far right. Whales, three impossibly large humpback whales, were playing near the surface. We followed them for about a minute before they eased off towards the horizon. It was the first time I’d seen a whale first-hand and experienced their sheer scale and it wasn’t to be the last.

As soon as the fishing got underway, I realised we’d anchored in an aquarium. All sorts of reef fish, angelfish, a cuttlefish, a stringray, a silver bream, a skipjack tuna, a 5ft Port Jackson shark, a 5.5ft mako shark – and they’re just the ones we didn’t keep. The mako shark was a highlight. It was a longer fight, involving more than one person. Once the mako had tired it would come near the boat, then thrash and start taking line again. So eventually my mate just lent over and grabbed it on the way through. Respek

For dinner, we took a pink snapper, baldchin groper and breaksea cod – a great haul. The only other fish we wanted to keep was a dhufish, but the limit is 50cm and we couldn’t catch one over 48cm. I channelled my inner Jamie Oliver and fried the fish, made some chips and squeezed on the lemon. Petrol just paid for itself.

Later in the day as we were flying along the top of the water, we saw a slick straight ahead. My mate killed the motor and we turned to each other wide-eyed, mouthing the word ‘whales.’ Sure enough, two giants of the deep breached all of 40m in front of us. That encounter freaked us out a bit because if you hit a whale you’re in the drink, but again, the size of the creatures was humbling.

We started heading back to shore after about 10 hours, running low on petrol but too relaxed to care. I didn’t get any footage of the whales – the first time I was too mesmerised to think about my phone and the second time they didn’t resurface – but the sunset at Ocean Reef boat ramp brought a fitting end to a special day. The last couple of weekends have been too windy for fishing, but it’s the first day of Spring today, so things are looking up.

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Mixed Martial Arts

Mixed martial arts is my latest obsession. A workmate introduced me through the UFC and I haven’t looked back.

A combination of stand-up and grappling skills, it’s a proving ground for the different styles of martial arts found across the world. Just among the current belt holders in the UFC, you’ll see techniques from boxing, wrestling, brazilian ju-jitsu, muay thai kickboxing, karate, judo and capoeira. (If you don’t know what capoeira is, see Marcus Aurelio in the white shorts). Fighters need a mix of different skills to rise to the top, but a lot of them have traditional martial arts backgrounds. Former UFC champion Lyoto Machida, for example, used his father’s karate teachings to reach the pinnacle of the sport, becoming the UFC Light Heavyweight champion.

Even if a fighter has great stand-up skills, they’re up against it without a decent ground game. I saw this first-hand at the WA Italian Club on Friday night, when Rob Powdrill lost via rear naked choke to Dave “Machete” Johnson. Powdrill, who fought for a kickboxing world title in France earlier this year, is a weapon on his feet. He stumbled Johnson in the first, but then was taken down and eventually submitted via rear naked choke. He seems like a good bloke and I think he could beat Machete in a rematch.

Lee Griffith from The West asked me to put some words to a multimedia package he did with Rob before the fight. We had one night to put it together.

Here are a couple of articles about Perth fighter Xavier Lucas, who made it onto the UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show – one and two. And here’s a chat with former UFC LHW champion Tito Ortiz about MMA in Perth.

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South Sudan – escape from slaughter

A young Simon Tut looked on as his family was murdered. He saw his grandmother try to hang herself from a tree after his mother and two aunties were slain. While fleeing for the border, he saw boys eat other dead boys, because there was no other option. After spending almost a decade in Kakuma refugee camp, he was selected to come to Australia. Now, although harder than any Anglo-Australian, Simon (29) is a calming, gentle presence. An aspiring politician who works seven days a week, he’s an asset to the community.

Perth’s South Sudanese population deserves respect. Surviving in a land of death and depravity, they fled to neighbouring countries and spent years in refugee camps. So many saw their loved ones slaughtered like animals, so many saw the dark side of humanity. Eventually some were flown into WA, bringing nothing but the clothes they wore but carrying plenty of baggage. I’ve met a lot of South Sudanese people and despite the culture shock, they’re making the most of their new lives. Let’s make them feel at home.

A young South Sudanese man looks out over Scarborough beach.

In July last year, South Sudan was declared an independent nation. The region is still on a knife’s edge, but it was a day of celebration for Perth’s South Sudanese population.

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